Travel: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Last weekend, Aimee and I made the haul up to my family’s cabin in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. It actually sits in between Maggie Valley and Cherokee, about a 1/4 mile away from the Blue Ridge Parkway. I’ve been visiting here several times a year since birth, so it has been fun to find new things to do, as well as experiment and challenge myself with photography.

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Beginning in 2001, the National Park Service began an effort to reintroduce elk into the area. The process has been extremely successful, with a sizable population now thriving, and easily visible at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. Being that its an easy drive from the house, elk-spotting has become a bit of a Carter family pre-dinner tradition.

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For the camera nerds, I rented the Nikon 200-500 f.5.6E for this purpose. While it is certainly a neat lens for the price, this thing is enormous and heavy. It doesn’t travel well, and the slow 5.6 aperture is tough to use in anything but the brightest light. Let’s just say that I understand why wildlife lenses cost upwards of $10k-$15k now.

I’ve been photographing the Oconaluftee Visitor Center for as long as I’ve had a camera, and visiting for as long as I could walk. For this visit, I focused in on various textures of the pioneer settlement.

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When the weather cleared up on Sunday, we drove over to Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the park. There is a tower at the top, built in 1959, and a great example of the mid-century modern style monuments that were built under the Mission 66 program.

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The hike to the tower and around the base was surprisingly icy. A brief little walk into the surrounding spruce-fir forest revealed an near winter wonderland of left-over ice from the previous night.

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On the drive home towards Cherokee, we stopped at a hiking trail on the side of the road. There are literally hundreds of miles of trails throughout the park, so I’m not sure what the name of this one was, or what exactly it was headed towards. We walked for around four miles though and found some great spots.

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If you planning a visit to the area, please do not hesitate to contact Aimee or I. We’d love to give you some areas to check out or places to eat. Thanks for checking it out!

Camera Specs

Nikon D850 | Nikon 200-500 f.5.6/E | Nikon 24mm f.1.4G | Nikon 58mm f.1.4G